Michigan is now one game away from an outright Big Ten regular-season championship. The conference appears to be fine awarding the title based on winning percentage, so here is where the race stands heading into the week:
- Michigan (13-1, three games remaining)
- Illinois (14-4, two games remaining)
Because the two teams face off on Tuesday, the scenarios are actually pretty simple, but I will lay them all out just for completeness:
- Michigan beats Illinois, locking up the title. Illinois would be able to finish 15-5 (.750) at best, while Michigan could be 14-3 (.823) at worst.
- Illinois beats Michigan but loses to Ohio State on Saturday. Illinois would finish 15-5 (.750), while Michigan could be 13-4 (.764) at worst, so the Wolverines still win the title.
- Illinois beats Michigan and Ohio State, while the Wolverines beat Michigan State at least once. Illinois would finish 16-4 (.800), while Michigan would be at least 14-3 (.824), which is enough to win the title.
- Illinois beats Michigan and Ohio State, while the Wolverines drop both against the Spartans. Illinois would finish 16-4 (.800), while Michigan would be just 13-4 (.765) and LOSE THE TITLE.
If you hate math, here is the tl;dr:
If Michigan wins one more game, the Wolverines win the Big Ten.
Of course, Michigan can also win by losing out if Illinois falls to Ohio State, but that feels less satisfying. Further, it would feel extra validating to not only take the title on win percentage, but also on total wins, and all that requires is winning out.
The nature of college basketball is that everything is about March. Regardless of seed or the previous 30-some games, history only remembers how deep in the NCAA Tournament a team progresses. That is what makes the tournament the best event in sports, but it also is not a fair representation of a college basketball season.
Still, I do not think this Michigan winning the Big Ten should be taken lightly. Sure, everyone is dreaming about a Final Four (and more), and that is how this team will be ultimately remembered, but earning the outright Big Ten championship — for the first time since 2014 — is an absolutely huge feat, especially this year.
The Big Ten is not only the toughest conference in the country this season, but it will go down as one of the strongest Power Five conference seasons ever. To win this title outright — potentially by multiple games — is simply ridiculous. This Michigan team will go down as one of the best Big Ten teams of the modern era, regardless of its postseason play. Imagine saying that in Spring 2019.